“All hail to the Ale”

It is all too easy to go through life thinking that things are exactly what they seem to be. The appearance matches the reality on most occasions. If they did not, every day decisions would be fraught with jeopardy and you would be either paralysed with fear or at the very least as suspicious as the Mother Superior upon spotting the novice nun nipping into her cloistered cell clutching what looks like a ‘buzzing’ white candle. As the door closes behind the novice, she wonders if the nun’s ‘devotional’ is more personal than spiritual.

We have barely evolved monkey brains which try to decide what is real and what is appearance. Some say the brain divides into three parts that work together as whole unit.

These poor little bags of organic matter sloshing about inside the hard casing of the skull have to deal with an awful lot of information and so it takes short cuts to do so. It likes to see patterns and when there is not enough information at hand to confirm what we think we are seeing, it fills in the gaps for us. It is why we see the face of Jesus in clouds, burned toast and in nocturnal emissions. It is why we get confused by black and white silhouettes of vases or faces, and why men need beer. In a confusing world, beer helps to clarify the mass of information directed at us every second of the day.

Brains have what is called neuro-plasticity, in short the more we repeat a behaviour the stronger the nerve links become. The more you buy shoes, the more you want to buy shoes. The more pasties you eat, the more pasties you want to eat and the more sacred texts you read, the more disconnected from reality you become. So, be careful when choosing your candles.

Apparently we have a bit of the brain called the reptilian, or lizard, brain. This is the primitive bit of the basal ganglia which evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago. It is responsible for instinctual behaviours such as aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritualistic displays. Sigmund Freud also referred to three parts of the psychological ‘brain’ and perhaps this lizard brain is where Freud’s ‘ID’ resides? This is the seething cauldron of unconscious desires that is always rattling the bars of its cage, eager to get out to satisfy its most basic urges. Alcohol is often the key that turns the lock that opens the cell door. Just ask any young man on a Saturday night out. Well, ask before he goes out. By eight thirty the lizard will be strutting it’s stuff in a ritual display of dominance, aggression and territoriality before the inhibitory effects of alcohol has completely dissolved control over one’s tongue, judgment, bladder and spatio-temporal reality. It is your inner child come out to play, a child who has not yet been taught or understands anything beyond the immediate gratification of sticking a finger in the jam and licking it off.

The novice nun clutching the ‘candle’ may be responding to her ‘ID’ in a manner she can barely recognise or control. The ‘ID’ did not mean to accidentally ‘switch on’ the candle but the lizard inside wanted a bit of freedom and so unconsciously directed her finger to the switch in over eager anticipation. The Mother Superior’s ID recognised the ‘candle’ and fought to get that recognition accepted by her higher morality that said it did not want to know… “talk to the hand”.

We also have a ‘limbic’ system responsible for emotions such as those required for reproduction, motivation and parental behaviour. Alcohol may play a part in releasing the flood of emotions required to turn the lizard’s, the ID’s, urges into behaviours that we all recognise, and sometimes bitterly regret, in a social situation. That warm fuzzy feeling, that sudden relaxation of strict moral constraints, that revaluation of the situation may be all down to the limbic system awash with dopamine and serotonin so that you start thinking warm thoughts towards a third party you otherwise would not touch even when wearing three layers of PPE and using breathing apparatus. This might be what Freud called the ‘Ego’, that bit of us that is consciously informing and guiding decision making that we are aware of. ID pushes the urge, Ego conciuosly thinks about whether it is a good idea or not. In a sober state it might be quite easy to consider whether drinking a full bottle of red wine after several large G and T’s in a beach bar could lead to consequences involving singing, dancing, unconsciousness, shame and a lengthy interaction with the emergency services of one sort or another. It is what chlamydia relies on. The voice inside your head clearly is saying ‘No’. It is your Adult trying to make a rational decision.

Then there is the third, unconscious moral compass desperately trying to get the attention of the Ego while ID cavorts and shouts in the other ear.

This voice talking to your conscious mind is the ‘Superego’ according to Freud. This is the memory of your real or imagined parent wagging their finger, its the disappointed look on the vicar’s face, its the headmaster’s cane, its the policeman’s knee on your neck, it is the threat of excommunication, its Noah’s flood and the lingering feeling of doubt and shame you inexplicably feel after being caught turning off Gary Glitter’s ventilator. This is the ethical code you have developed following years of study of moral philosophy, crude experience and completing all seven volumes of Harry Potter. ID wants to take your trousers down and run naked through a wheat field with a corn cob sticking out your arse, Superego asks you to contemplate just which bit of the Judaeo-Christian ethical code this would fulfil and Ego just says ‘No’.

This is precisely why we like beer.

You can see why in the face of John Mills at the end of the film ‘Ice Cold in Alex’.

There are fewer things in life that actually deliver on a promise, that provide instant gratification every single time, where the reality matches the appearance. There are fewer things in life that does all of this, than the first pint of beer after a hot hard day. The colour of an Ale is that warm comforting amber that reminds one of the teddy bear one snuggled up with as a child on Christmas morning. It is the evocation of warm sunny days, roses around the front door, summer lawns and summer lunches as swallows flit and fly around the thatched roof of the Fox and Hounds. It is the vicar cycling by, waving his hand as he passes the Foxgloved hedgerows, the baker delivering hot bread to the kitchen behind the pub, it is the ‘free from toil’ for a few hours and the contemplation of a life well lived, where sorrow is nowt but an erased memory. The dimpled pint on an old oak table reflects the rays of a late afternoon sun through the glass into a diamond sparkling invitation to sit and sup a while. Let the world turn, measured only by the vintage village clock whose ancient hands imperceptibly measure the dawdling slow march of time towards eternity. Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone even the dog’s not barking as he chews a bone.

The Lizard is asleep, The Superego does not mind, and you can think clearly about the simplicity of a bag of crisps, an English Ale and a late summer afternoon.

I think of this as I open a can of beer in my hotel room. It looks like a can of beer, it sound like a can of beer, it feels like a can of beer, pours into the glass like beer and it sparkles like beer. But the brain will not be fooled this time. It will not fill in the gaps, it recognises this pattern and it gives it a name: ‘disappointment’. It is probably not the best beer in the world. The novice nun disappointingly finds that it is actually a candle she is holding and not some electronic organ of delight. Never mind, the candle has its uses but you can’t beat the real thing.

So much for 0% beer.

Published by Lance Goodman

Freelance writer, bon vivant and all-round good oeuf.

2 thoughts on ““All hail to the Ale”

  1. Ice cold in Alex! Great movie, nice reference dear boy.
    I can’t keep up with all your writing- you are writing faster than I can read. 😊


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